Trump’s Son-in-Law Kushner to Take Unpaid White House RoleBy , , and
Real estate heir looks to step down from his family’s company
Ethics specialists debate reach of 1967 anti-nepotism law
President-elect Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will serve as an unpaid senior White House adviser, making him part of the leadership trio in charge of carrying out Trump’s agenda.
Kushner, who played a central role in Trump’s campaign, will work with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon, according to an announcement from the president-elect’s transition team. Trump, in a statement, called him a “tremendous asset and trusted adviser.”
Kushner will divest from his various business assets to comply with conflict-of-interest rules, his lawyer said.
It’s not clear what Kushner’s portfolio would be. A 1967 federal anti-nepotism law bans public officials from appointing “to a civilian position in the agency in which he is serving or over which he exercises jurisdiction or control any individual who is a relative of the public official.” But some legal specialists question whether the law applies to the White House, and it’s also unclear whether a family member could take an unpaid position.
Jamie Gorelick, a lawyer representing Kushner with the firm WilmerHale, said it’s “not a close question.” Congress has authorized presidents to hire for the White House “without regard” to personnel laws like the anti-nepotism statute," she said. “The Justice Department has described this authority as ‘unfettered’ and ‘sweeping.’"
Kushner will resign from his position as chief executive officer of Kushner Cos., his family’s real estate company, to comply with government ethics standards, Gorelick said in a telephone interview.
Kushner, 35, will divest his ownership interests in the Kushner Cos.’ flagship office building at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Gorelick said. The New York Times reported Jan. 7 that Kushner was closing in on a deal to redevelop the building in a joint venture with Anbang Insurance Group Co., a Chinese insurance company with close ties to that country’s government that has been buying up marquee U.S. commercial properties.
According to Gorelick, he will divest from Thrive Capital, an investment firm, and will also divest his ownership interest in the New York Observer, which was one of two major newspapers to endorse Trump’s candidacy. The other, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is owned by Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire.
And he’ll sell any foreign investments and any common stock he owns, Gorelick said. “For the most part they are going to other family members through various trusts and the like,” she said. “He will not be the beneficiary of these trusts.” Kushner will “recuse from particular matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on his remaining financial interests,’’ Gorelick said.
It’s not unheard of for presidents to rely on family members for informal counsel, even on top-line issues: President John Kennedy, before the 1967 law, hired his brother Robert as attorney general, while President Bill Clinton put Hillary Clinton largely in charge of a doomed health-care reform push. Some ethics specialists have questioned such arrangements, however.
Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as the top White House ethics lawyers to presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush respectively, wrote last month that they had both advised White House officials during their terms that their relatives couldn’t be hired to work in the building. “But there are those who disagree with this view,” the pair wrote in a New York Times article.
Eisen said Monday that he still has the same point of view, but he welcomed Kushner’s divestment decisions. “Kushner’s going to comport with ethics and conflicts and disclosure rules,” he said. “Given the unsettled state of the law, I’m satisfied that that’s the right way to proceed.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment directly on Kushner’s appointment when asked by reporters at a briefing on Monday, saying that Trump as president has a free hand to select his advisers. But he said Obama believes that it is “worth the time to make sure the kind of ethical arrangements are in place to prevent ethical conflicts from cropping up.”
Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, currently residents of New York City, have bought a home in Washington. Like Trump, Kushner took his father’s empire of middle-class apartments and parlayed it into investments in Manhattan, before taking a key role in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign.